ST. ANTHONY, NL – For the first time since the plant went into operation in 1999, St. Anthony Seafoods will not be running year-round.
With uncommon layoffs and rumours about even more future cuts to shrimp quotas, plant worker Trudy Byrne says it’s a particularly stressful time.
“This year even our engineers got laid off. We went from a year-round facility to a seven-month facility,” she said.
Byrne has worked for the plant since its dawning days and says there is worry across the board about the future of both the shrimp fishery and the shrimp plant.
“There’s lots of concern. Every plant worker I see is wondering what’s going to happen this year,” she said. “I used to work anywhere from 22-26 weeks and for my total last year, I went home with 14 weeks.”
In an emailed response from Clearwater Seafoods, Jeana Day says the plant has changed to a model consistent with competitors and current industry practices to fully and completely shut down the plant from January through March. As a result, some employees have been laid off but will be rehired in the spring.
One of these employees, plant engineer Jim Ash, says the layoff makes him uncertain about the future of St. Anthony’s plant.
“I hope [the shrimp population] rebounds but I’m not confident in the future,” said Ash.
Ash has worked at the plant for the past 17 years, and this is the first year he has not been working through the winter. He was laid off at the end of 2017.
“There’s work to be done down there but they want to put it off for now,” Ash said. “The uncertainty of it is keeping people on the hook.”
Drastic quota cuts over the past two years have severely impacted plant workers across the province. Some plants, such as the shrimp plant in Twillingate, were shut down completely due to the cuts.
Now, results from surveys conducted in December on current shrimp biomass and any future changes in quota are expected to be announced in early March.
Byrne says there are plenty of rumours that another drastic cut to shrimp quotas could be coming their way. Byrne hopes none of these rumours are true.
With uncertainty high, she says the current state of shrimp is reminiscent of the state of cod during the moratorium.
“It’s déjà vu to me, it’s definitely heading in that direction again,” said Byrne. “And who do you blame – we worked in this industry because it was there for us.
“I think it ultimately comes down to mismanagement with the offshore draggers being able to fish year-round. I think it would’ve managed much better if offshore fished the same as the inshore and they shut it down after that to give the species a chance to replenish.”
The plant is scheduled to go back into production by the beginning of April, but Byrne says there is worry that St. Anthony Seafoods could suffer a similar fate to Twillingate’s plant if population projections don’t change.
“If they close it completely, it’s a total disaster for everyone,” she said.
With a mortgage and bills to pay, Byrne hopes the plant has a foreseeable future, but the population for species like cod is not yet at a stage where the ground fishery can replace the shrimp plants anytime soon.
Ash agrees if the plant does continue to operate, other options besides shrimp need to be considered.
“It’s time for the area to wake up,” Ash said. “If it opens this year, we’re definitely going to need investments in other species.”
In its emailed response, Clearwater Seafoods says the plant is moving to a seasonal operation like other shrimp plants in Newfoundland.
As results from December’s survey are being prepared for public release, St. Anthony Seafood’s employees are on edge with big concerns and an unsure future.
“There seems to be no solution for this, it’s just heading down and down as far as I’m concerned,” said Byrne. “We’re just hoping for the best, that’s all. That’s what keep us going – just hoping things can not get worse than they already are.”